Don’t confuse Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zach Trotman with teammates Teddy Blueger or Adam Johnson. Trotman is not a rookie, not feeling his way through his first couple or even first couple dozen NHL games.
Trotman is 28, with his third club after playing at Lake Superior State, and speaks with a calmness, a maturity and a noticeable level of appreciation about being on the Penguins roster and in the lineup 12 times since he was recalled Feb. 25 from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
“It’s always fun playing in games that matter,” he said. “I’ve played in the playoffs in the AHL and games that matter down there. I feel that’s when I play my best hockey, so it’s exciting to be able to play some of those games up here and see how I’m able to handle it. It’s all good experience.”
Trotman has been the go-to defensive partner of Brian Dumoulin without Kris Letang, who has an upper-body injury for the second time in the past month.
But don’t confuse Trotman with Letang, either. Letang has been mentioned as a potential Norris Trophy candidate this season and is a premier two-way defenseman.
“I don’t think I’m jumping into his role,” Trotman said. “(Letang) is a guy that very few, if any, can replace. I’m being put in a spot to play my game and use that to my advantage and help us win games right now.
“He’s not 100 percent. But, obviously, it’s nice to be in the lineup and it’s nice that we’ve been winning games when I’ve been in there. It feels good to be able to contribute and help out where I can.”
Trotman has one assist and is plus-4 in 12 games since his recall. He played in 11 straight games, was a healthy scratch for three when Letang returned, then got back in the lineup Monday against the Rangers after Letang got hurt again.
Trotman, dating to 2013-14, played in 57 games over three seasons with Boston, the team that drafted him in the last round in 2010. He then spent time with Los Angeles, but injuries and time in the AHL stopped him from getting into a game with the Kings.
Injuries have hampered him the past few seasons. He signed with the Penguins before the 2017-18 season but played in just three NHL games, 49 Wilkes-Barre games.
“It’s never easy having injuries and being out,” Trotman said. “You feel like you work through the injury and you get back into a groove again and then something else pops up and you kind of have to start over again. I feel like as I’ve gotten older and I’ve been through it a couple times I’ve been able to stay with it mentally and sharpen that curve as far as when I get back. It’s definitely nice being healthy now and being up here. We’ll see what happens.”
Using Boston, an Original Six team steeped in tradition, as a comparison, Trotman appreciates both teams but sees a good setup with the Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 and now is in contention for a Metropolitan Division title.
“Both are winning franchises,” he said. “Pittsburgh has had successes of late. There’s no question as to why — the work ethic around the rink, the attitude in the locker room and the expectation every night when you go out. And obviously the results are coming.
“It’s great to be around. It’s a great flow to be getting into. It’s a great mindset to have. It’s definitely something that’s contagious. I really appreciate being able to be around it.”
Trotman doesn’t know what his role will be moving forward. Letang is considered day to day but apparently had not resumed skating as of Tuesday.
However, coach Mike Sullivan expressed hope that Olli Maatta could return Friday against from six-week absence because of a shoulder injury.
Sullivan declined to divulge what will happen with the defensive pairings when Maatta, a left-handed shot, is cleared to play. The impact on Trotman, who like Letang is a right-handed shot, is not clear.
He’s not keen on the idea that he might beat someone out to remain in the lineup, but not because he doesn’t believe in his game.
“I try not to think of it like that,” he said. “We’re all a team, and we all fall in line somewhere, but it takes a group to win, and no matter where you fall on that chart you’ve got to be ready to go every night, whether they call on you or not. If you’re not in the lineup, it’s your job to push guys in practice to make them better and make sure you’re getting better.”
But whenever or so long as the Penguins pencil him into the starting 20, Trotman is thrilled to milk as much experience and confidence from it as he can.
“Yeah, absolutely. That helps,” he said. “Confidence is something you kind of have to manufacture yourself, and it comes from playing, but knowing that they had the confidence to put me out there and that they trust me to step into that role is huge.”